A person is shown holding a toy car as they contemplate how to sell your car.

Why Cleaning Your Car Will Get You a Better Price When You Sell

You’re getting ready to sell your car, and you might still be on the fence about whether you’re going to sell it yourself or bring it to a dealership, but you know you want top dollar. Anyone in the market to sell anything always hopes to get the most money possible, and selling a car typically means you have already put plenty of money into your vehicle just to buy it and maintain it during your ownership. So, how much work should you actually put into cleaning that old car before you sell it? Does it matter if you plan to take it to a dealership that can do its own detailing? Let’s get into the options and go through the process of prepping your car for sale.

Selling to a Dealership

When you sell your car to a dealership, you might think your car can only go toward the price of a new vehicle, but dealerships actually love getting used cars to add to their inventory whether you buy a new car from them or not. Because dealerships are always looking for new stock, they would likely welcome your used car on their lot for a cash offer or as a trade-in, so you have options. Even though dealerships commonly detail their vehicles to prep them for sale regardless of the condition in which they arrive, imagine a dealer looking over your vehicle in terms of the work they will have to do before the vehicle can be sold. Any dealer knows a car sells faster and for a higher price if it looks clean and is free of dings and dents.

If you drive your car to a dealership and you haven’t taken the time to clean it, they know the time it takes to clean it themselves means money they aren’t making on the vehicle. The dealership will need to pay someone to clean the car, and that comes out of the profit they could potentially make. Even if you don’t take your car to a detailer, you should clean out your trash, wipe down all surfaces, wash the windows, vacuum, and polish the exterior. Taking the time to do even basic cleaning means less time the dealership has to put into the vehicle to prep it, and they know that means more money in their own pocket. That will then translate into more money for you when they make you an offer.

A person is shown smiling in the front seat of a vehicle.

Selling Privately

Rather than taking your car to a dealer, you may want to make more money on your sale by selling it yourself. Essentially, you are now the dealer who has to take on the task of detailing before you sell it. If you put yourself in the shoes of a dealership, you can imagine all those used cars lined up on the lot, shiny and clean, so people browsing will be attracted to buy. To get top dollar for your car, it falls to you as the seller to either clean it the way a detailing service would or simply pay someone to detail it for you. Obviously, detailing a car yourself means you get more money out of the sale, but you can save yourself a headache by paying a detailer around $100 to do the work for you.

Once you put the time or money into the cleaning, you’re giving your car the best chance it has to sell at a higher value because buyers are often put off by a dirty car. Cleaning it will put a buyer at ease about the purchase because it gives the appearance of care and maintenance. When you need to take pictures for an ad, a clean, shiny car will attract more interest than a car that looks dull or dirty. Buyers are more likely to make a higher offer if the car is clean, too, so it’s worth your time to deep clean. That means shampooing carpets and seats, using special treatments to liven up the look of the dashboard and controls, and giving your car a good wax. Taking the extra time to touch up dents or dings will also give your car a fresher look and will mean a higher price when you sell.

The Difference Between Older and Newer Models

Used cars are not all the same when it comes time to sell. If you’re selling a car that’s only a couple of years old, buyers are likely to expect it to still look fairly new. On the other hand, if you plan to sell a car that’s five or six years old, buyers will be more forgiving of a few rough edges in the appearance. While it still matters whether or not it’s clean, the value of a vehicle is more closely associated with its age and how many miles it’s been driven. Though you expect a car to sell for a higher price when it’s still within those first few years of its life, an older car that has been maintained well and has a nice clean interior can still sell for a good price.

Some of what affects the sale of a car is subjective because everyone has different ideas of what makes a car valuable to them, but when you see a classic car that still has its original seats and carpets that look clean and fresh, it’s impressive. You want to touch the fabric or leather, and it almost welcomes you to sit behind the wheel. Whether your car is new or old, if you can make your car look as close to new as possible, your potential buyer will be more impressed with your car. In short, make a good impression regardless of the age of your car. Clean it knowing that someone will be really happy to see that car in their driveway if it looks its best.

A person is shown holding a hand full of cash in front of a red car.

Small Repairs

Just like clean seats and windows, buyers will notice if little things like knobs for the climate control or door handles are broken. Those little things draw away from the value of the vehicle, and they are part of making the vehicle presentable for sale. If you have a broken signal light, a window that doesn’t open, or windshield wipers that don’t work, take the time to fix them. Paying a couple of hundred dollars to fix small things will add value to the overall price of your car, and whether you sell it to a dealership or through a private sale, it will mean a higher offer in the end. You don’t want to go overboard and fix every single thing—after all, you probably want to sell because you don’t want to have to fix an aging vehicle—but if you can get away with small repairs to spruce up the way it looks, then you should spend a little to get better offers.

What Buyers Will See

Remember that you want to make a good impression on whoever buys your car. A dealer may be shrewder when it comes to noticing details you might miss, but a dealer also understands you are selling a personal vehicle. They expect to do some work before they turn around and sell it themselves. Just make it worth their while by bringing them a clean car they can easily freshen up. For private sales, try to see your car through the eyes of a dealer and make it shine. Go to the local auto store and find the products that restore the appearance, including fixing those little things that you might have let go. You might even want to buy an air freshener, so it smells as good as it looks. People tend to be swayed by the emotional response of a clean, fresh car. Appeal to that, and you can expect to make selling a much quicker, easier prospect.